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Tony Vitello Mixing Up Pitching Rotation Entering Georgia Series

Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello is mixing up his weekend pitching rotation ahead of this weekend’s series against Georgia.

Chase Dollander will start for the Vols in Thursday night’s series opener, sophomore Blade Tidwell will start in game two Friday with the Vols’ starter for Saturday’s series finale is still to be determined. Either Chase Burns or Drew Beam will start the series finale for the Vols.

Vitello and pitching coach Frank Anderson have an embarrassment of riches on the mound this season with four pitchers that would be weekend starters at every other SEC school.

With four weekend starting caliber pitchers, one hasn’t started in every series this season. For most of the year, injuries made life easy for Vitello.

Tidwell — the one returning starter from last season’s team — missed the first six weeks of the season due to a shoulder injury. The freshman All-American stayed came out of the bullpen as he worked his stamina and pitch count up while returning from injury.

Two weekends after Tidwell made his season debut, a line drive off Alabama’s Zane Denton’s bat struck Tennessee Saturday starter Chase Dollander on the mound. The Georgia Southern transfer avoided the worst with his injury and Tidwell filled in for him while he recovered from the bone bruise.

Tidwell was elite, relieving Dollander against Alabama and in his first SEC start of the season against Florida, allowing just one run and four hits in 6.1 combined innings pitched in the two games.

From there, Tidwell has struggled in consecutive starts not making it to the fourth inning. Dollander returned ahead of last weekend’s series against Kentucky and dominated in a long relief outing after Tidwell struggled.

The right-handed pitched allowed just two hits while striking out five Wildcats in his four inning relief appearance.

“He’ll be back in the rotation,” Vitello said of Dollander following the series finale against Kentucky.. “We got to map out what we want to do and the end goal is to make sure everybody is still relatively fresh and everyone is getting action.

It is undecided which freshman will remain in the weekend rotation and which would go to the bullpen. Chase Burns has been the Vols’ game one starter this season while Drew Beam has been the game three starter.

Both Burns (7-1, 2.25 ERA) and Beam (8-0, 2.15 ERA) have been dynamic in their first collegiate seasons, but have been on a decline the last month.

In Burns’ first three SEC starts, the Gallatin native allowed just four earned runs and averaged 6.1 innings per outing. In the five since, Burns has allowed eight earned runs while averaging just 4.1 innings per outing.

Beam’s trajectory has been similar to his fellow freshman. Through four SEC starts, the Murfreesboro native allowed three earned runs in 7.2 innings per outing. In his four starts since, Beam has allowed 10 earned runs in just shy of five innings per outing.

With both freshman — particularly Beam — pitching more innings this season than they did in their final high school seasons, a week break for their arms could prove to be a blessing. Vitello said as much about Dollander’s injury earlier in the year.

“I think he kind of sees that it’s coming along and we knew that it would but we would rather be a little cautious than not,” Vitello said during Dollander’s recovery. “In the end, some of these guys when they have a quick outing— you go get a guy in the third inning and he’s upset, but once time passes you realize this is not a big league season but it’s a marathon for these kids and they’re young, so a little time off can go a long way and this might actually end up benefiting him. But he’s anxious to get out there. We want to use him this weekend. I don’t know if that’s possible, but he’s definitely doing a lot more as of the last couple days.”

Tennessee opens its weekend series against Georgia at 7 p.m. ET Thursday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

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